An inside look at the PR machine that drives the auto industry
Heading up PR for automaker is no small task
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Getting a new auto model to market is an extremely complicated and costly process.
Not only can it take years to design and engineer it, as well as get the assembly lines ready to build it, but the automaker also has to get the news out. It’s a full-time job that can take an entire team to manage, and it’s far more work than most people think.
“Our job is to get mainstream coverage of our vehicles to create awareness for the public,” says Chuck Reimer, senior specialist of public relations for Mazda Canada. “It takes a special personality to handle everything that gets thrown at you and do it with a smile on your face.”
While the public relations department isn’t involved in the car’s initial creation, the staff members know about new products far in advance of the vehicle’s official launch, which must be kept secret from the public and the press.
Most new models are usually first unveiled at auto shows, and then shortly afterwards, events are set up where auto writers and broadcasters drive and evaluate the vehicle for the first time.
Advertising campaigns are done by agencies, but the PR department writes the press releases that go out to news agencies and journalists.
“You have to know how to write, and communication has to be a strong suit for you,” Reimer says. “If you have spelling mistakes in it, there is always someone who will send you an email.”
In the past, it was enough to get the information out to newspapers and magazines, but today, automakers also have to work with social media.
In addition to maintaining websites for consumers and media, including uploading all of the specifications and pricing for each model, automakers have to keep their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other channels updated. In some auto companies, working with bloggers and social media is a full-time job in itself.
In addition to putting information out to the press, automakers frequently have to answer to it. Public relations usually supply the automaker’s spokespeople when required, such as when recalls or other issues make the news.
Auto manufacturers maintain fleets of vehicles that are lent to the press for evaluation, and it’s Reimer’s job to handle almost all of them across the country.
This involves determining what trim levels and options should be ordered, maintaining the schedules of who’s driving them, and being sure they’re ready to go each week. Getting information out may sound like an easy job, but it’s actually very involved.
“There are always ten things on the go, so you have to be very organized,” he says. “It’s a professional occupation, and you have to be professional and credible yourself. And every day is different.”
While requirements vary by company, many public relations specialists have degrees in business administration, journalism, or communications.
In 1923, advertiser-turned-automaker Ned Jordan promoted his cars by focusing on lifestyle rather than the vehicle, marking the start of modern auto advertising.